To support student journalism and the content you love, become a member of Daily Orange today.
Russell Shealy secretly asked Santa for a pet pig for Christmas one year, but cried when he didn’t see one under the tree. So his parents extended their own offer – If he got all the A’s, they’d buy him one.
Shealy’s mother, Maureen, said he was struggling with homework, so she thought it was “case closed”. But in the spring, Shealy “overworked” herself as a student, Maureen said, eventually graduating with A’s in her classes.
In disbelief, Maureen even called Shealy’s teacher to ask if one of her grades could be lowered to 89. But of course, her parents stuck to their word and researched where to find a pig in Georgia.
For 14 years, Shealy’s house pig, Bella, has been back home in Cartersville, Georgia. When he returns home from playing goalie at Syracuse, he takes Bella for a walk. He has photos of Bella saved on his phone and is always happy to talk about her, blushing at times. Bella is also in the family’s Easter photos, which do not include the family’s two dogs.
“She’s basically been there my whole life, but it’s not as weird as you think,” said Patrick, Shealy’s brother.
It started in third grade when Shealy was given an assignment to read a non-fiction book and give a presentation on it. He picked up a book about potbellied pigs and realized he needed one.
Maureen still has no idea why her son wanted a pig, assuming it “took his fancy”.
Maureen said the family found Bella at Paradise Valley Farm in Cleveland, Georgia, an hour and a half from Cartersville. The farm had a good reputation and received some national recognition after Bella’s mother appeared on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.”
They wanted a little pig that would grow to around 130 pounds. That’s how they settled on Bella.
“A miniature pig weighs less than 150 pounds and Bella 135 pounds, so she’s still adorable,” Shealy said.
From the jump, Shealy “loved” Bella. The rest of the family called her “the best pet ever”.
“You can just tell she loves life,” Maureen said.
Bella goes for a run in their garden. Sometimes she walks around the neighborhood with Shealy or anyone else in the family. Maureen said whenever it’s cool and sunny, the family calls it “a good pig day”. Bella will even come into the house, jump on the couch and sleep.
The Shealys keep her on a strict diet, eating specially formulated pig feed intended for older, mature pigs. She will have a cup in the morning and a cup in the afternoon, snacking occasionally on fruits and vegetables. But never table scraps, says Maureen.
Both Patrick and Maureen said Bella was “low-maintenance” compared to dogs. Bella knocks on the door when she wants to come in and stays close when she wants to go to the bathroom.
If the family leaves Bella for a long time and she needs to “relieve herself”, she will go to one of the family showers. Maureen said no one trained Bella to do this. Decades of scientific research show that pigs are highly intelligent animals with basic cognition.
Megan Thompson | Director of Digital Design
Sometimes Bella goes places she’s not supposed to go. One morning, Maureen noticed that Bella was walking “very funny”. She thought the pig slept badly on its legs because Bella had trouble walking.
But Maureen went to the pantry, where an entire crate of Michelob Ultra was torn on the floor. Bella was drunk.
Bella spent the rest of the day outside, lying drunk in the mud while the Shealys repaired their pantry. Since then, she has developed a taste for alcohol, Maureen said, and has continued to break into the pantry, popping the lids off aluminum cans.
Patrick said Shealy’s determination to get Bella showed he could do anything and achieve it. At one point, Shealy played on five different football teams at once. Maureen said he never complained about training as he worked his way through football academies such as Atlanta United of Major League Soccer.
Throughout this journey, Shealy has always had Bella. After a tough day at practice, Shealy and her brother were heading home to Bella. Sometimes they practiced on a soccer net in their backyard. Bella walked into the net and they passed her, sometimes indignant if she got hit.
“When you’ve had conversations with him, he’s laid back, wacky (guy). He’s a goalie,” Syracuse head coach Ian McIntyre said. “If you look up ‘goalkeeper’ in the dictionary, there’s probably a picture of him holding his pet pig.”
Posted on October 19, 2022 at 11:11 p.m.
Contact Henry: [email protected]